Note: Last week, I re-posted the story of “Joe and Marge.” This post, also from 2012, is the follow-up to that piece.
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I am glad I had the opportunity to meet many of you today. I am also glad i got to watch the video with pictures of Marge from her life over the years. One sad part of my ministry is that I only get to know people in the final season of their lives. It really helps me to see those pictures and understand more about those relationships and those stories.
I didn’t know Marge when she adopted a young daughter and raised her as her own, went to all her activities with her, and shared those joys and challenges that come with a mother-daughter relationship. I did not know her when she had a son later in life, after years of thinking she could not bear children. I wasn’t there on all the occasions portrayed in the pictures, when she held her grandchildren. It was obvious how much she loved you; you can see the pride and joy glowing in her eyes in each photograph.
No, the Marge I have known was the pretty, petite older lady who found herself wandering in the world of Alzhemier’s dementia. Even in that condition, she was pleasant and energetic. In fact, whenever I saw her she rarely sat still. She loved to look out the windows and see what was happening outside. She moved about the house, checking on things, straightening the pillows. When I came to see her, she always greeted me, always spoke to me when I greeted her, and always came and sat with Joe and me as we visited.
One thing I consistently observed was how comfortable she was in Joe’s presence and how she responded to him. Now I want to say something here, and I’m sure it will embarrass Joe. I have been a pastor more than twenty-five years and a hospice chaplain for seven and a half years, and I have never seen a better example than Joe of a spouse who loved and cared for his wife. He was protective of Marge’s routine and made sure she had everything she needed and wanted. He worked flawlessly with those of us who came to the house. He laid down his life day after day so that Marge had as comfortable and peaceful and happy a final season of life as possible — until the day she left this world, lying peacefully in her own bed, right where she wanted to be and where they wanted to be together.
The Bible says it is not our religious rituals that ultimately matter. What matters is “faith working through love.” That is what I saw in Joe and Marge. Their life over the past couple of years became simpler, but no less rich. They were more restricted in what they could do and where they could go, but whatever they did was filled with love. They may not have been able to go to church or practice specifically religious observances, but their life together was marked by faith in God’s presence and help every day.
The Bible asks us a question: “What does the Lord require of you?” What do you think about that? What does God require of us? Here is the answer it gives: “To do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
In another place it tells us, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands…so that you behave properly toward others and not be in any need.”
Psalm 37 likewise calls us to live this kind of life. It says:
Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and feed on God’s faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.
Faith working through love.
This is the kind of life Jesus himself lived. And when he died, laying down his life so that our sins might be forgiven; and when he rose again to give us new life and to send us his Holy Spirit, he made it possible for us to enter his Kingdom and live like that too. By his grace he enables us to have lives that are characterized by faith working through love.
And so, more than anything today, I want to say thank you Marge, and thank you Joe for showing all of us in real life, day after day, what faith, hope, and love look like.
I also want to remind us all that this is what will sustain us in our present time of sorrow and enable us to support each other on the journey to come, until we join Marge before God’s throne. It’s all about keeping that hope and having a faith that works through love.
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Photo by Hollywood Bill Merrill at Ted Drake’s Flickr. Creative Commons License.